Governing for the future : the opportunities for mainstreaming sustainable development

Full text


Governing for

the Future

The opportunities for mainstreaming

sustainable development


ch 201


Governing for the Future

The opportunities for mainstreaming



The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) is the Government’s independent adviser on sustainable development (SD), reporting to the Prime Minister, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.

Following the statement by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 22 July 2010 stating that Government wants “to mainstream sustainability, strengthen the Government’s performance in this area and put processes in place to join-up activity across Government much more effectively”, the SDC’s funding has been withdrawn by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) effective from 31 March 2011.


Drafted by: Farooq Ullah and Anne-Marie Shields.

Contributions from: Andrew Lee, Ian Fenn, Minas Jacob, Shirley Rodrigues, Tamar Bourne, Will Day, Becky Willis,

Alice Owen, Beverly Anderson, Ann Finlayson, Susan Gransden, Claire Monkhouse and Jake Reynolds.

Special thanks to: Edward White – The Environmental Audit Committee; Professor Andrew Jordan – University of East Anglia; Dr John Turnpenny – University of East Anglia; Dr Tim Rayner – University of East Anglia;



Foreword 4

1 Sustainable Development and Government


2 The Sustainable Development Approach


2.1 The Holistic Nature and Benefits of Sustainable Development 9

2.2 The Business Case for Sustainable Development 12

2.3 Barriers to a More Sustainable Government 13

3 Sustainable Development Architecture –

Planning, Delivery and Learning


3.1 Components of Sustainable Development Architecture 15

3.1.1 Governance Arrangements 17 Strategy and Vision 17 Leadership and Governance Structures 19 Scrutiny and Accountability 20

3.1.2 Mechanisms 21 Performance Management Frameworks 21 Delivery Plans and Tools 22 Monitoring and Reporting 23

3.1.3 Themes 24 Operations and Procurement 24 People 25 Policy 27

3.1.4 Enablers 29 Capability Building 30 Engagement 31

3.2 Checklist – Principles of Good Practice and Government’s Plans 33

4 Conclusion



For several decades, scientists, demographers and advisors around the world have been alerting their governments, and the wider public, to the emergence and implications of a set of interlocking global trends that will require prompt, large scale and profound decisions to be taken if their potentially devastating effects are to be averted or minimised. Over the years, the UK government has received advice and information of the highest quality from its various advisory bodies, alerting it to the consequences of increasing environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, natural resource depletion, rapid urbanisation, a warming climate, and so on. Sir John Beddington, the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, attracted considerable public and political attention by his description of the gathering strength of a ’Perfect Storm’ of interlinked issues. Critically, the natural resource and environmental trends that scientists and NGOs have been measuring and increasingly agitating about are in many cases exacerbated by a set of social and demographic trends. These trends include the profoundly political issues of poverty and wellbeing, taxation and equity, infrastructure strain, population growth and the quality and quantity of our current consumption patterns and model of economic growth.

The question, in the light of such consistent advice, and the daunting implications of doing nothing, is what can and should be done, and by whom; and critically, how can government operate to deliver this change?

The establishment of the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) was, in part at least, a recognition that government is not structured, or necessarily expert enough, to be able to rise above the limitations of short-term political and budgetary cycles and narrowly focused departmental remits, to make the kinds of long-term decisions and connected responses that these major challenges demand. What was needed was a body, independent of government, but close enough to be sympathetic to the realities of working within its constraints, that could both challenge and support the development of policy and the practical realities of implementation and the capabilities that underpin and enable effective and efficient delivery.

There is a growing recognition that our political, environmental and commercial discourse, traditionally carried out separately, can no longer be so. And yet the mechanisms and tools at our disposal, within government or the private sector, often limit the discourse to managerial or departmental silos, often competitive, that deal with

issues in isolation and miss the opportunity to be both more effective and efficient in the delivery of services.

While domestic politics and government action will be the mechanism by which a sustainable future is delivered in the UK, few if any of those trends that underpin our current unsustainability are solely domestic in nature. This provides the UK government with both a challenge and an opportunity. On the one hand, the perception that possibly uncomfortable political decisions may only make a modest contribution to the scale of change that is required, and that if others don’t follow a similar path the UK may be put at a disadvantage. On the other hand, real opportunities will accompany the achievement of a low carbon, high employment and more equitable, genuinely sustainable, economy.

The firm conclusion of the Sustainable Development Commission, on the basis of ten years of experience of working with government, is that sustainability works. But given the scale and nature of the gap between where we are and where we need to be, the need for a better definition of a sustainable future, and a step change in progress towards it, is both urgent and vital. Whatever language is used, natural resource depletion, biodiversity loss, fairness, human dignity, inclusion, economic development, and more equitable prosperity for an expected nine billion people by 2050 cannot be ignored, and will only be managed by a better recognition of their interconnectedness, and of the need for responses to reflect that fact.

This report, one of the last to be produced by the Sustainable Development Commission, is a summary of the major lessons learned by the Commission – its Commissioners and staff – after years of working with Ministers and officials across government to better understand some of the ‘How’ and ‘What’. It outlines a set of principles and approaches and illustrates, with practical examples, what has worked. It is intended as a guide for those who are seeking to better understand how to approach and deliver more sustainable practices that are needed to address the world’s intractable problems. While this Guide is aimed at government ministers and officials, we hope that anyone seeking a brighter future will find it helpful in his or her sustainability journey.

Will Day



More than twenty years after the Bruntland Commission,1

governments still struggle to place sustainable development at the heart of what they do. It is not as if politicians and civil servants do not care – there are a great many who have devoted substantial portions of their careers to trying to tackle at least one of the specific issues listed in the Chair’s Foreword. So too have Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), businesses, community groups and individuals from all walks of life. Yet there seems to be something buried deep in human nature which finds it hard to treat the future as if it really is as important as the present, and seeks to tackle each problem separately from the others.

Yet a great deal of evidence shows that attempts to solve issues in isolation all too often result in perverse consequences elsewhere. For example, the interaction between decades of policies on food, out-of-town planning, and mobility/transport has had unforeseen consequences in terms of obesity, carbon emissions and loss of

biodiversity. Sustainable development is about seeing this bigger picture. Its basic premise is that we need a different way of thinking about problems, one starting from the fact that we live in a finite, complex, interconnected world. Increasingly, we face new types of problems – “wicked issues” – which will require new types of response – flexible, adaptive, using systems thinking, seeing the whole picture not just a part of it. One of the watchwords will be creating “resilience”.

Sustainable development is a hugely powerful toolkit for finding new solutions to old problems, an operating system which has the potential to sit behind everything that our government departments, companies, schools, hospitals, local authorities and grassroots organisations do, delivering

better economic, social and environmental outcomes. Such a profound change of thinking is hard, and it is therefore perhaps not surprising that it seems likely to take us a generation or two to do it. There are so very many ways in which the institutions we have built appear hard–wired to resist such a shift. Nowhere is this more evident than within government. In the decade of its existence, the SDC has worked to help embed sustainable development as the operating system of choice for decision-makers and advisors in Whitehall, Holyrood, Cardiff and Belfast. Have there been successes? Of course: due to the hard work of many officials and some enlightened Ministers. Has the job been done? Emphatically not, in fact it has barely reached the “end of the beginning” to paraphrase Churchill.

This document looks at the experiences the SDC has had over the last ten years in working with parts of government and shares successes and barriers, challenges and opportunities. At its heart are links to case studies and examples from those who have made sustainable development work for them. We hope that it is of value to the current UK Government and to those in the three Devolved Administrations. But its themes and messages inevitably compete with proximal concerns about the economic downturn, the public deficit and spending cuts. This is ironic, since making these macro decisions through the lens of sustainable development would help to ensure that decisions taken under pressure in the short term do not put the future at risk. We therefore hope it will also be of value to future decision makers as they continue on the journey.

Andrew Lee

Chief Executive Officer


The most widely-used interpretation of the term

‘sustainable development’ is probably that defined within the Brundtland Report in 1987, which stated that:

“ …humanity has the ability to make development sustainable – to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future gen erations to meet their own needs…”2

Formed under the previous Conservative Government, the UK Roundtable on Sustainable Development observed that:

“ sustainable development is a continuous process – a journey, not a destination. The key requirement is that we should all be moving in the right direction…”3

In other words, sustainable development is not a singular, prescribed outcome. It is an approach that requires many steps, trial and error, openness and learning – a continuous process to ensure the best available path is taken to achieve benefits for all, at any given time. The metaphor of sustainable development as a ‘journey’ is useful in explaining the way in which different organisations seek to embed principles of sustainable development in all aspects of their business, including policy, operations, procurement and people. This involves:

Setting a clear direction for your organisation,

Ensuring all stakeholders understand the

benefits of undertaking the journey,

Making sure you have the right tools and processes,

Delivering on goals and ambitions,

Learning along the way from successes and failures,

Using that learning to plan the next steps

of your journey.

Equally important is that we work together in this journey. Government has a key role to ensure this, by setting the right direction, enabling all parts of society to contribute effectively, and ensuring we are all moving in that same direction.

In 2005, the then UK Labour Government launched a renewed strategy for sustainable development entitled

Securing the Future.4 Along with the First Ministers of the

Devolved Administrations, the shared framework One Future: Different Paths5 was also launched. This framework

document set out the common goals and challenges of the UK Government and devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Together, these documents sought to make sustainable development the central organising principle for government, and introduced the five principles set out below:


Sustainable Development

and Government

Living within environmental limits

Respecting the limits of the planet’s environment, resources and biodiversity – to improve our environment and ensure that the natural resources needed for life are

unimpaired and remain so for future generations.

Using sound science responsibly

Ensuring policy is developed and implemented on the basis of strong scientific evidence, whilst taking into account scientific uncertainty

(through the precautionary principle) as well as public attitudes and values.

Promoting good governance

Actively promoting effective, participative systems of governance

in all levels of society – engaging people’s creativity, energy

and diversity.

Achieving a sustainable economy

Building a strong, stable and sustainable economy which provides prosperity and opportunities for all, and in which environmental and social costs fall on those who impose them (polluter pays),

and efficient resource use is incentivised.

Ensuring a strong, healthy and just society

Meeting the diverse needs of all people in existing and future communities, promoting personal wellbeing, social

cohesion and inclusion, and creating equal opportunity.


In February 2011 the Coalition Government published its own vision: Mainstreaming Sustainable Development6 to

deliver their intention to:


maximise wellbeing and protect our environment, without negatively impacting on the ability of future generations to do the same”.7

With this came a different approach to that of the previous administration, centred around the role of the Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Cabinet Office (CO) in reviewing and “sustainability proofing” departmental business plans and looking to Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) to provide independent scrutiny. The challenge now will be putting this vision and approach into practice.

Since the original ‘Earth Summit’ in Rio de Janeiro in 1992,8

international work and developments such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,9

President Sarkozy’s Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress,10 the

Millennium Ecosystems Assessment11 and The Economics

of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB)12 have considerably

advanced our thinking on sustainable development, and laid out the case for a change of pace and scale. In 2012, the third United Nations Conference on Sustainable

Development (UNCSD)13 will again take place in Rio de

Janeiro. Known as the Rio+20 Summit, its objectives are to secure renewed political commitment to sustainable development; assess progress towards internationally agreed goals on sustainable development; and address new and emerging challenges.14 The UK has a vital

role to play in ensuring this conference is a success by demonstrating its own commitment through ambitious and thoughtful leadership and action.

The Wider Context

This Guide provides information and advice for

governments now and in the future who wish to reflect on progress and find more systemic ways of responding to the biggest challenges of the day. While successive UK Governments have made progress towards a more sustainable future, there is still much to do.

“Government” in this document is henceforth used as shorthand for the UK Government, including its

Departments, Executive Agencies, Non-Departmental Public Bodies and Non-Ministerial Departments. However, there are specific references to the Devolved Administrations. While the sub-national governance level is out of the scope of this report it remains vitally important to sustainable development. In a context where policy goals include localism and the Big Society, Local Enterprise Partnerships, Local Authorities, Local Strategic Partnerships, community groups and parish councils all have a crucial role to play.

While this Guide deals primarily with the experiences of parts of Government and the public sector, we hope that a broader audience will be able to learn from it as well, and that the case studies and examples are applicable to other sectors including business and civil society. It seeks to

provide advice for both leaders and practitioners, whether their organisations are already some way along the sustainability journey or just starting out.

In Section 2 we look at how the principles of sustainable development can be embedded in the architecture of government to drive a cycle of continuous improvement. We also outline some of the benefits of, and barriers to adopting this approach, and how to build a business case for sustainable development.

In Section 3 – the heart of the Guide – we examine in detail eleven components, under four areas, which as a whole should constitute the mainstreaming of sustainable development. Each is illustrated with examples. The components are then summarised in a checklist of principles of good practice against which Government and other organisations can assess progress towards sustainability in the future.


Sustainable development is a practical approach which maximises positive outcomes by recognising the interdependencies between the economy, the environment, and society. It is about securing long-term success in all three of these areas through working across sectors to deliver integrated solutions with multiple benefits. When appropriately applied, it is a concept which allows creative thinking about the interrelatedness of complex, far-reaching problems and generates new and innovative solutions.

Sustainable development is therefore a systems-based approach for achieving positive, enduring change. In Government, as in our everyday lives, the problems we face are often perceived as isolated situations or events not connected to each other, the world around us and that of future generations. Often the everyday pressures faced by officials and Ministers, coupled with the intense media and public pressure to respond instantly to events, can encourage a siloed approach to dealing with issues.

A systems approach does not mean tackling every aspect of a complex problem at the same time, but looking first at the big picture to identify specific steps to effect an improvement throughout the entire system. Sustainable development allows us to think big and act effectively.

Getting the right high-level plans in place to leverage change is essential for sustainable development to be properly embedded in any organisation, but so too is a ‘bottom up’ approach to particular topics or cross-cutting issues. This guide offers advice on how to do both ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’. It describes how the principles of sustainable development can be embedded in the overall ‘architecture’ of Government; focuses on specific aspects of that architecture and the structures and processes around them – with practical guidance for practitioners; and, finally, provides an overview of how all these structures and activities can be integrated into a genuinely holistic approach. This is outlined in Figure 2.

Sustainable development allows us to think holistically and for the long-term. ‘Development’ implies progress and improvement, while ‘sustainable’ suggests resilience, long-termism and future-proofing. Short-term thinking is the biggest risk to sustainable development. Progress is made through a cyclical approach of planning, delivery, reflection

and learning within the organisational strategy and culture. Embedding the principles of sustainable development into all aspects of an organisation’s business will, in turn, result in increasing, long-term benefits not just for that organisation, but for the economy, environment and society as a whole. Figure 3 illustrates this concept.


The Sustainable

Development Approach



is a



which requires

holistic and



Figure 2 Understanding the Sustainable Development Approach

2.1 The Holistic Nature and Benefits of Sustainable Development

Components are then put back together as sustainability is a whole

greater than the sum of its parts. This, in turn,

delivers co-benefits This system or whole

can then be broken into the components of Sustainable Development

Architecture for practical discussion and


Figure 3 Driving continuous improvement and increasing positive economic, environmental and social outcomes by embedding a sustainable development approach



‘Embeddedness’ of the Sustainable Development process over time

Sustainable Development Architecture




Progress is ensured by having built-in mechanisms to ensure continuous improvement, particularly at the end of each “cycle”, where learning is reviewed, reflected upon and incorporated in the planning for the next cycle. Transparent reporting of progress and any missed opportunities is imperative if all parts of society – government, business and civil society – are to be engaged in the sustainable development journey and meaningful progress is to be made. Being honest about progress, any aids or hindrances to progress, and applying that learning to future practice builds trust and helps accelerate improvements.

This approach makes it possible to look back at the journey to date to understand where you have come from and how you arrived at your current position so that you can plan the next stages. For example, the former Government’s Sustainable Development Action Plan (SDAP) process required regular reports on progress towards individual goals which enabled Departments to reflect on their progress – aided by support from the SDC as an independent expert – and to take the next steps in their respective journeys.

This cyclical process of action and reflection has been applied with some success at UK Government level on improving the sustainability of its operations and procurement.15 Notable benefits here include more efficient

energy consumption, which in turn has saved taxpayers’ money and reduced carbon emissions. However, the challenge now is to take this same approach to public policy, where major, tangible benefits can be realised; both in the short-term and in the long-term. This has already begun in some areas. The Department of Health (DH)-led White Paper on Public Health, for example, recognises

environmental determinants of health, in particular the positive impact that these can have on reducing health inequalities. However, this sort of approach is very far from being embedded in policy-making processes across the whole of Government. Adopting a consistent sustainable development approach to policy development will yield joined-up solutions that address multiple problems and their root causes.

A powerful example comes from the development of policy to tackle the UK’s ageing population. Good public policy should seek to promote fairness and social justice while keeping activity and growth within environmental limits and creating a more prosperous economy. Opportunities for older people to avoid isolation, remain active, be connected to key services and contribute to society are vital in ensuring the wellbeing of the ageing population and society at large. Furthermore, a healthy and active elderly population can be key to delivering prosperity to both society and the economy through non-market activities (e.g. by becoming carers and volunteers); particularly given the shifting demographics of our society as the baby boomers age. However, historically there has been a missed opportunity in tackling the environmental factors that affect the lives of the elderly. The Audit Commission report Under Pressure states that a poor local external environment is one of the key factors driving the demand for social care for the elderly.16 Encouraging Government Departments

to work more closely to align environmental policy with socio-economic policy in this instance can provide the local external environments required to improve wellbeing and reduce demand for, and the pressures associated with, social care. Working in such a holistic way will achieve better outcomes for all of society, including the elderly.17

Sustainable development is a central organising principle which requires central coordination for its delivery. An inability to approach the implementation of sustainable development in a strategic and joined-up manner creates a risk of fragmentation and siloed thinking. In such an approach, the multiple- and co-benefits of sustainable development would be lost. Therefore, there is an urgent need for cohesive oversight and coordination to ensure that the activities of the different players in Government – and the functions they are inheriting from the SDC – are carried

forward with a unity and thoughtfulness to drive sustainability into the heart of Government.

Defra remains the lead Department for sustainable development in Government. However it is not a central, coordinating department in the way that Cabinet Office or Treasury are, for example. The appropriate architecture must therefore be installed to ensure that there is strategic coordination of this cross-cutting agenda, so that sustainable development is indeed mainstreamed and not fragmented.


Before beginning the sustainable development journey, it is necessary to create a clear and persuasive argument for the benefits that this approach will bring in the specific context of the organisation. A sustainable development approach will yield reduced risks to organisations, enhanced resilience and responsiveness to economic and environmental shocks, cost savings and efficiencies, enhanced wellbeing of the workforce and a more positive

environmental impact of the organisation itself. The extent of these benefits will depend on the organisation’s situation, and the means of achieving them will be adaptable to circumstances and requirements. Figure 4 outlines some useful issues to think about when framing the business case for Government, a Department or any organisation.

2.2 The Business Case for Sustainable Development

In preparing the business case, engaging the necessary stakeholders in its development from the earliest stages will help create buy-in and support. Bringing together the right people to set priorities and make key decisions will increase the probability of success. As sustainable development is a whole organisation approach, a lack of engagement across staff and associated departments or bodies risks failure through fragmentation. For further

details, see The Risk of Fragmentation and Section

on Engagement. The business case does not need to be a

stand-alone document, rather a clear articulation of the benefits of a sustainable development approach in the context of your organisation, why action should be taken and what that action looks like. It is a means of getting others involved and supportive of the need to undertake the journey together.

Figure 4 The Business Case for Sustainable Development

Responsible Organisation

* A responsible ethos benefits reputation * Private sector is currently

showing leadership * Benefits for graduate

recruitment and staff retention.f


* NAO includes sustainability in its definition of “value

for money.”a

* SDC Watchdog role * House of Commons Environmental Audit



Securing the Future commits the Government to ensuring that sustainable development

increasingly influences government spending (as seen in CSR 2007).b

Big picture

Ensure public sector delivery is more than the sum of

its parts.c

Stated Government


Sustainable development is government policy. Securing the Future commits

government to “lead by example.”d

Improved Risk Management

A sustainable development approach enables organisations

to identify the possible spectrum of risks & to take

measures to mitigate those risks.

Efficiency Gains

Financial savings are available from more efficient resource

use and a more integrated approach to business.

A way of


to recognised threats to global environment and


“The climate change crisis is the product of many generations,

but overcoming it must be

the great project of this generation.”e




Over the decade in which the SDC has worked to embed sustainable development across Government it has encountered a number of barriers, such as the perceived complexity of the concept, a confusion that it relates solely to “green” or environmental issues or siloed departmental working. Figure 5 summarises these and other barriers. Some are directly within Government’s power to change, such as the quality of sustainable development toolkits available to officials; and some are more challenging, such as securing public understanding and support for sustainable development as an approach which will improve quality of life now and for future generations.

A key factor in enabling more sustainable outcomes through public policy is to establish the right architecture and processes within Government, as explained in Section 3.

A clear vision and definition of sustainable development will overcome the conceptual barriers, especially when accompanied by capability building within Government and effective engagement with the wider the public to make it easy and desirable for people to live more sustainable lives.18 Many of the institutional and operational barriers to

sustainability would be minimised by strong governance arrangements and effective mechanisms for delivery, reporting and learning. It will be easier to engage local governance bodies and community groups on sustainable development if a clear vision and the benefits of sustainability are apparent in every policy, regulation and piece of guidance that relates to the local level. Governments need to take long-term decisions beyond their immediate electoral value.

2.3 Barriers to a More Sustainable Government

Figure 5 Barriers to Embedding Sustainable Development in Government


Complexity of the concept

Reluctance to accept

environmental limits Misappropriation of the term

Difficulty defining

sustainable development Tension in accepting trade off

between long-term and short-term outcomes.


Departmental ‘path dependence’

HM Treasury sending mixed

signals to regulatory bodies on what is important Turnover of Ministers

Public sector modernisation

An inadequate toolkit for

sustainability practitioners.


Departments working in silos

Difficult for Government to

respond in agile way when things do not go according

to plan.

Local Level

Local government getting mixed messages from

central government; many responsibilities and diminishing resources

People and communities – securing a mandate;

stimulating action on sustainable development.


Mislabelling of sustainability as

purely environmental – using climate change as a proxy

No HM Treasury strategy

for sustainable economic development

Perception of sustainability as not

electorally appealing Pressure from ‘interest groups’

which do not share public interest Trade off between consumption

and investment in infrastructure Five year parliamentary cycle does

not engender long-term thinking.


Every organisation on the journey towards sustainability encounters some or all of these barriers. Once aware of the barriers, Government should plan to avoid them, learn from mistakes along the way, identify any missed opportunities and share this experience with others to help each other along.


Sustainable development is not an ‘add-on’. To mainstream sustainable development it should be embedded in, not attached to, the existing organisational architecture of Government and its public bodies (and indeed any other organisation). In order to enhance and promote effective leadership, enable delivery and provide accountability to the public, four broad areas need to be tackled:

Governance Arrangements

1 provide the leadership

and direction required to drive the sustainability agenda, ensure the systems and processes are in place to make it happen, and also provide accountability for progress. They consist of:

Strategy and Vision

Leadership and Governance Structures

Scrutiny and Accountability.


2 provide the means to get things done. The following mechanisms are key to successfully embedding sustainability across the organisation:

Performance Management Frameworks

Delivery Plans and Tools

Monitoring and Reporting.

The following

3 Themes run through both Governance Arrangements and Mechanisms, and should be considered at all stages along the sustainable development journey:

Operations & Procurement




4 seek to create momentum, deliver action and constructively use learning:

Capability Building develops and improves the

knowledge, attitude, skills, behaviour, leadership and culture that are needed to apply the principles of sustainable development to an organisation’s core business

Engagement deepens the understanding

and commitment of both decision-makers and participants to deliver more sustainable outcomes and achieve cost and time savings. This includes engagement of staff at all levels as well as key ‘customers’ and external stakeholders (e.g. suppliers and private and third sector organisations). Engagement is about developing shared goals and getting buy-in internally and externally.

To achieve optimum progress, these four areas and their components must be considered together. This holistic approach can be applied and replicated at the macro-organisational level (e.g. pan-government or multi-national company) as well as the micro-organisational (e.g.

departments and teams). A feedback loop of performance information drives continuous improvement and

democratic accountability, as shown in Figure 6.


Sustainable Development

Architecture – Planning,

Delivering and Learning


Figure 6 Sustainable Development Architecture



gem en





ilit y B

uil ding

Governance Arrangements








Monitoring and Reporting

Delivery Plans and Tools Performance Management Frameworks

Operations and Procurement People Policy



Scrutiny and Democratic Accountability

Strategy and Vision

Leadership and Governance Structures



The UK Government has had a national strategy for

sustainable development since 1994, becoming the first government to produce such a strategy following the ‘Earth Summit’ of 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, when governments around the world committed to sustainable development.

The previous administration’s sustainable

development strategy, Securing the Future,19 was

launched by the Prime Minister in 2005, along with the framework One Future Different Paths,20 which

committed the UK Government and the Devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to achieve the goals of “living within environmental limits and a just society… by means of a sustainable economy, good governance and sound science” though a shared set of principles and priorities. This strategy gave a greater focus to environmental limits than previous strategies and brought together Government and business, civil society and local government to achieve combined action domestically and internationally. It also committed each UK Government Department and Executive Agency to producing a Sustainable

Development Action Plan (SDAP), setting out

their individual commitment to, and priorities for, sustainable development based on their areas of responsibility (See Section – Delivery Plans and Tools).

In February 2011 the Coalition Government published

its vision and commitment to “mainstream sustainable development”.21 The vision states that the Coalition

will “build on the principles that underpinned the UK’s 2005 SD strategy, by recognising the needs of the economy, society and the natural environment, alongside the use of good governance and sound science.” The vision makes particular reference to measuring the UK’s progress on quality of life, in addition to economic measures. A key challenge for the Coalition will be ensuring the principles of sustainable development are put into practice in all areas of its business by building on the work of the Government Economics Service (See Section – Policy).

The Welsh Assembly Government was founded

with a statutory duty with regard to sustainable development. In 2009 this was further strengthened by committing to make sustainable development the ‘central organising principle’ of Government in Wales in its One Wales: One Planet Strategy.22 Wales also has

a Sustainable Development Charter which to date has been signed by the Welsh Assembly Government and 22 leading organisations from the public, private and third sector.


A public statement of the Government’s priorities (i.e. how it will deliver its core business for the long-term in order to achieve better and mutually reinforcing social, economic and environmental outcomes) and principles (i.e. the central organising principles through which all activities are viewed to limit adverse effects and maximise efficiency), which will enable an improved quality of life for all now and in the future, while living within environmental limits.

3.1.1 Governance Arrangements Strategy and Vision


European Union 2006 Sustainable Development

Strategy st10/st10917.en06.pdf

2009 Review:

France’s 2010 Sustainable Development Strategy EN_-_dossier_presse_CIDD_-SNDD.pdf

Department of Health’s 2009-2011 Sustainable

Development Action Plan digitalassets/documents/digitalasset/dh_102243.pdf

Food, Environment and Research Agency’s

2009-2011 Sustainable Development Action Plan sustainableDevelopmentPlanV2.pdf

Case study M&S’s Plan A

Marks and Spencer (M&S) launched Plan A in January 2007 – ‘committing to change 100 things over five years, because we’ve only got one world and time is running out’. This came from a realisation that acceptance of the status quo was not working, and that the world was changing. Three years on, Plan A is making a difference to the environment and its customers, employees and people working in its supply chains.

Through Plan A M&S introduced products and services to help customers live more sustainably, increased its contribution to local communities, and generated £50m additional profit in 2010 which has been invested back into the business.

This process began with an in-depth stakeholder engagement process to figure out what the issues were, determine what the solutions might be and provide support along the journey. This planning allowed for risk and the possibility for mistakes. M&S decided that it wanted to lead the market. Its business is predicated on leadership, and while it cannot lead on price, it can lead other things. In this case, M&S decided that sustainable development offered a competitive advantage and that it is the only way to do business.

What was then needed was a plan; Plan A as there is no Plan B.

The aim is to go beyond simple compliance with legal requirements and tackle intangibles such as bringing together traditional siloes within the organisation in order to provide integrated solutions which benefit the business and the larger world around it and seeking constant measures of performance. The benefit to the business in the short-term is a lower cost base through greater efficiencies and high resilience to commodity shocks. However, in the longer-term the benefit is a greater trust base with its customers who value a more considered and ethical way of doing business.

M&S has now extended Plan A to 180 commitments to achieve by 2015, with the ultimate goal of becoming the world’s most sustainable major retailer.


At UK Government level all departmental Permanent

Secretaries have personal objectives related to Government operations and procurement targets. This mechanism has been key to improving the sustainability of Government operations. For details of this performance improvement, see Section – Operations and Procurement. To drive the same success in policy outcomes, Permanent Secretaries’ and Ministers’ personal objectives should include objectives to embed sustainable development in policy as well as operations.23

Governance bodies created to drive sustainable

development must have complementary purposes, clear remits and strong leadership. Under the previous UK administration, separate mechanisms were established to drive the objectives of Securing the Future under sustainable operations and cross-departmental coordination of policy. The latter was less effective and the lack of integration between policy and operations limited effectiveness in both. Both Parliament and the current Government have noted this issue as part of the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into sustainable development.24

For further discussion on governance and leadership barriers, see Section 2.2.


A formal lead for sustainable development at the top of Government and each Department and division, supported by structures, staff and mechanisms which together deliver the sustainable development strategy. The aim is to ensure more effective and informed decisions which lead to improved sustainability performance and outcomes. Leadership and Governance Structures


Jordan, Andrew – University of East Anglia,

The Governance of Sustainable Development: Taking stock and looking forwards, December 2007.

Leadership for Environment and Development

(LEAD International) is the world largest not for profit organisation focused on leadership and sustainable development.


In 2005, the remit of the Sustainable Development

Commission (SDC) was strengthened to include the formal “watchdog” function to carry out scrutiny of Government’s sustainability performance.25 This was a

conscious move by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to make the SDC’s work more and establish independent external scrutiny and therefore increase the accountability of wider Government. Over the next five years this move, along with specific tools given to the SDC such the power to produce an annual report on operations and review Departmental Sustainable Development Action Plans (SDAPs), played an important role in driving up performance across Government. The SDC worked closely with the two other main central government sustainability ‘scrutineers’ of Government – Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) and the National Audit Office (NAO) – to provide effective scrutiny. The Government’s new vision

for Sustainable Development – Mainstreaming

Sustainable Development – states that new measures

to promote “transparency and independent scrutiny” in this area will include “independent monitoring of sustainability in Government operations, procurement and policies by the Environmental Audit Committee”.26

However, it is unclear what Government expects of the EAC, nor is Government able to dictate to Parliament or Parliamentary bodies how to carry out functions to hold Government to account. The Vision relies on the EAC being the key public scrutiny body, and Government will simply publish relevant data and information online “so that the public and Parliament can hold [Government] to account”.27

Separate sustainable development scrutiny processes

are particularly useful during the initial stages of installing sustainable development architecture.

However, at a more advanced stage, integrating sustainable development into existing internal audit processes ensures that it is hardwired into the core of business activities and allow for better monitoring. The Treasury’s Sustainability Reporting is a good example of this integration; for further details see Section – Monitoring and Reporting. The findings of this monitoring can then be fed into subsequent rounds of activity to improve performance.

Scrutiny can take many different forms. It can be

either in-depth or light-touch, specific to a theme or all-encompassing. What is important is that it has constructive ends and is tailored to the needs of the organisation that is being assessed. Furthermore, scrutiny is not a one-off application. To be done properly it requires on-going interaction. The SDC’s pilot assessment with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Departmental Sustainability Assessment (DSA)28 model, was an evolution in the

SDC’s scrutiny work developed to provide tailored advice to individual organisations in order to build their capability.

Government Departments have often benefitted from

peer reviewing the draft SDAPs of other Departments. DWP, for example, exchanged drafts with Defra and the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) in order to learn from each others’ experience in working towards their shared ambitions for more sustainable communities and a just society. DWP benefitted from constructive advice and gained insight into how other Departments approach sustainable development. Each of the Departments were also able to cross-check targets to ensure they attaining efficiencies by cross-referencing each others’ efforts in similar areas of work.29 Scrutiny and Accountability


The public is able to hold the Government to account on the sustainability of its policy and operations based on regular disclosure of independently verified information, both at the level of individual departments and of the Government as a whole.



UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC): committees-a-z/commons-select/environmental-audit-committee/


National Audit Office (NAO) work on sustainable development:,_ sustainability.aspx

Examples Useful Links

Useful Links

The Coalition Government has set out its overall aims

in the Coalition Programme,30 which is underpinned

by Departmental Business Plans with input/output metrics and outcome milestones. The Coalition Government intends to assess the sustainability of Departmental Business Plans in a regular process which will be undertaken by Defra and overseen by the Cabinet Office. Defra, the Office for National Statistics and the Cabinet Office are developing a new set of sustainable development indicators, taking

account of advice from the SDC. These indicators will include a measure for wellbeing. As part of its new vision for sustainable development, the Coalition Government has reaffirmed its aim to lead by example with new “Greening Government commitments”31

from 2011-12 to replace the SOGE Framework which expires in March 2011. The challenge will be ensure that any new internal commitment match and support policy ambitions which drive sustainable development.

3.1.2 Mechanisms Performance Management Frameworks


A holistic set of indicators, targets or goals against which to measure impacts to ensure progress is made towards the agreed strategy and vision, as well as making Government’s progress transparent and accountable.

Sustainable Development Indicators in your Pocket

2009 (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2009) tna/20090810002953/ sustainable/government/progress/documents/ SDIYP2009_a9.pdf

Departmental Business Plans 2010



Government Departments have a variety of plans and tools to deliver their business across the themes of Operations

and Procurement (e.g. estate management strategies),

People (e.g. recruitment plans) and Policy (e.g. White Papers).

The previous administration committed all Government Departments and Executive Agencies to produce SDAPs setting out how they would deliver all their activities more sustainably and make their contribution to Securing the

Future. Two organisations had begun to look beyond these

delivery plans to better integrate sustainable development into their organisational business:

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has,

over the past eighteen months, focused attention on integrating sustainable development into its business planning processes through department-wide engagement to examine each of the Department’s business areas through a sustainability lens, identifying and addressing gaps and opportunities

The Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) took the

decision not to produce an SDAP for the financial year 2009/2010 but to produce a single Business Plan/ SDAP i.e. a ‘sustainable’ Business Plan. The Agency’s Sustainability Team were largely responsible for ensuring this transition was carefully managed. Their ongoing work involved regular monitoring to ensure the success of the transition, maintaining a list of sustainability actions and priorities to ensure wider sustainable development concerns were still clear and prominent.

The Coalition Government has taken the decision to discontinue the SDAP planning and reporting process in favour of proposals to “mainstream sustainable development” in Departmental Business Plans (DBPs). Delivery Plans and Tool


Publicly available documents which clearly set out how each Government Department will meet the commitments set out in its performance management frameworks, through specific actions within a prescribed timeframe, across Operations and Procurement, People and Policy, together with the range of tools and processes that will be used to deliver these actions.


Useful Links


FCO’s 2008-2009 SDAP progress report outlines their progress and future plans for integrating

sustainability into business planning (p 44-45 and p 53 report on business planning progress and next steps) 5/5550005/5550012/sust-dev-progress-report-0809

DVLA’s 2010-2011 business plan


For organisations starting out on their sustainable

development journey, the SDC’s SDAP Progress Reporting guidance will prove useful in developing their own sustainable development reporting methods. It may be useful to begin monitoring sustainable development as a separate but complementary reporting stream to core business reporting, particularly for an organisation beginning its sustainable development journey. Though these streams can operate separately for a time they should always be complementary. This will ensure that strengths and weaknesses are easily identifiable and can be targeted more effectively, and as lessons are learnt and fed back, and reporting becomes more sophisticated, the organisation can begin considering integrating it into core business reporting. The

ultimate aim should always be to integrate sustainable development monitoring and reporting into a single reporting stream through the organisation’s business plan, and to create more simplified reporting which focuses on outcomes

Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT) Sustainability Reporting


– This Treasury-led guidance is an excellent step towards integrated reporting. It requires all public sector organisations to report information relating to sustainability performance in annual reports, which should also lead to improved performance management in relation to sustainability. By using a format which covers both financial and non-financial performance, it is expected that the cost and benefits of embedding sustainability will be more visible. A dry-run is underway for 2010/11 with Central Government departments before extending to all public bodies. The extension could be further improved by incorporating wider aspects of sustainability such as social impacts, beyond simply environmental issues. Examples

Useful Links


A streamlined and timely process of monitoring and reporting progress against performance management frameworks for all elements of Government’s business. The ambition should be for simplified reporting that integrates sustainable development and focuses on outcomes, thus providing transparency for staff, stakeholders and the public. Monitoring and Reporting

SDAP Progress Reporting guidance

HMT guidance on sustainability and environmental

reporting –


By 2008/09, the Sustainable Operations on the

Government Estate (SOGE) framework targets had helped Government improve its energy efficiency by 7.9%; reduce carbon emissions from offices by 10% and from administrative vehicles by 17%; reduce waste by 13.7% and water use by 19.9%; and increase recycling by 48.4% against their respective baselines. While this is good progress, the recent carbon footprint of Government indicated that 77% of Government’s CO2 emissions come from the supply chain.33 Currently operations and procurement are

largely seen as separate issues, which can result in the impacts of operations being shifted off the estate to external suppliers without taking action to reduce them in real terms. It needs to be clear that more sustainable procurement will help deliver more sustainable operations. While exact figures do not exist, the estimated value of the benefits from better management of carbon, energy, travel, waste and water across Government in 2008/09 can be estimated to lie somewhere between £62.3 million and £66.1 million per annum.34 However, operations

and procurement activity must focus on more than carbon or the usual environmental impacts of waste,

water and energy, by looking to improve social issues such as local employment, living wage, work-life balance and opportunities for volunteering that come from the way Government chooses to operate internally and procure goods and services

In 2008/2009 DWP made a significant absolute

reduction of 8,000 tonnes of office-based carbon emissions against the previous year. This has shifted progress from the poor performance of a one per cent increase in emissions above the baseline year, to making progress by reducing its emissions by 2.3% below the baseline. As the second largest carbon-emitting department, this turnaround is significant for pan-Government performance as the reduction accounts for over 11% of Government-wide reduction in the same period. In addition, DWP uses the Sustainable Procurement Risk Assessment Methodology (SPRAM), a tool developed in-house for ensuring that the department’s sustainable procurement targets and objectives are factored in to contract programs. All suppliers can expect to be subject to a SPRAM assessment.


Coalition Government’s Greening Government commitments: Operations and Procurement:

The SDC’s

Sustainable Development in Government (SDiG) assessment: Operations and Procurement


Ensuring that all aspects of Government operations, including direct management of its estate and assets and other activities supporting its work – such as travel and procurement – are carried out in ways which maximise economic, environmental and social value in the long-term.

3.1.3 Themes




It is important that a balance is struck between

progress on the ‘formal’ elements organisational management (i.e. processes, frameworks and competencies) and the less formal aspects (i.e. encouragement of debate on sustainable development issues and general awareness raising) to ensure that people genuinely improve their capability to make more sustainable decisions rather than just complete tick-box exercises. DWP has struck this balance well by integrating sustainability into its competency framework and, similarly to the Ministry of Defence (MOD), using awards programmes to reward individual staff for sustainable behaviours:

Sustainability in the Department for Work and

Pensions (SID) awards encourage staff to use their initiative and challenge themselves and others to act more sustainably,

MOD’s Sanctuary Awards provide recognition for

both individual and group efforts for projects on conservation and sustainability on MOD land in the UK and overseas.

The Coalition Government’s decision to discontinue Sustainable Development Action Plans leaves a gap in the ‘People’ aspect of its sustainability approach. As yet, there is no agreed replacement method for Departments to set out their plans in this area, or to measure cross-Government performance on how well staff understand sustainability and put it into practice in their day to day jobs, at home and in their local communities.

All too often sustainable development is equated

with environmental issues. Therefore ensuring that competency frameworks, induction and recruitment procedures make clear that sustainable development is about the interrelations between the economic, environmental and social issues with examples specific to the organisation is a good starting point to overcome this barrier. This can then be built on through training, seminars and debates to further develop staff understanding. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) Outreach Programme is an example of how staff have been encouraged to use their skills in the wider community, thereby enhancing staff understanding of sustainable development and what it means in their work:


The development of staffing and human resources tools, processes and policies (including competency frameworks, training, induction and recruitment procedures) with the aim of ensuring: People

A working culture that recognises diversity and

equality, supports a flexible working environment where appropriate, and promotes learning and development opportunities to ensure happier, healthier and more productive staff

All staff have the awareness, understanding

and skills to apply the principles of sustainable development in their working practices and in their wider community.


Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Procurement (CESP) within the Cabinet Office seeks to provide leadership focusing on environmental sustainability across government:

Carbon Trust


HMRC began the Outreach Programme to ensure

that the public fully understood their potential entitlement to tax credits following research that identified low take-up in certain areas. Internal advertisements were placed for volunteers (called

Outreach Support workers) from within HMRC to go out to supermarkets, children’s centres and community groups to speak to people in the course of their daily lives and seek to improve their economic situation.

DWP’s SID Awards

– see page 23 of DWP’s 2009 SDAP progress report:

MOD Sanctuary awards WhatWeDo/Property/SanctuaryMagazineAndAwards. htm uk/+/ DefenceNews/EstateAndEnvironment/

BadgersAndBonesWinModConservationAward.htm Useful Links

Case study Unilever – Sustainable Living Plan

In 2010 Unilever, the consumer goods group, launched its Sustainable Living Plan which set out ambitious aims to grow its business “in a way which helps improve people’s health and wellbeing, reducing environmental impact and enhances livelihoods.” In addition to examining and addressing the impacts Unilever has on its customers and consumers the Plan also comprises a ‘People – creating a better workplace’ section which recognises the importance of its employees in driving forward the success and the sustainability of its business.

The Plan sets out a number of ‘People’ targets to reduce employee travel, reduce workplace injuries and reduce office waste. In addition an employee health programme has been developed “to improve the nutrition, fitness and mental resilience of employees”. Unilever’s eventual aim is to extend this programme out to all of the countries in which it operates. The programme is already beginning to show benefits for employees, with an 18% increase in the number of

people who exercised during the initial six month pilot, and for the company in terms of reducing healthcare costs and absenteeism.

Any organisation seeking to be more sustainable should recognise the impacts its business has on people; whether they are customers, consumers, suppliers or its own employees. Unilever’s

comprehensive approach demonstrates a step forward in the thinking of business to better understand all the social impacts of its activities and how to become more productive and sustainable through creating the conditions for a healthier, happier workforce.

The people section of the Sustainable Living Plan: people/


In 2010 the Government Economics Service

(GES) published their Review of the Economics of

Sustainable Development35 which explored how the

sustainable development principles could be used as a framework for decision-making in government. One particular output of this work is the existence of a Social Impacts Task Force, jointly chaired by Defra and DWP, which is reviewing how social impacts will be defined and measured and will be producing its view on “macro-level” indicators of wellbeing. The intention is that this will form supplementary guidance for the Green Book36 to enable policy-makers to better

understand the social impacts of the policies they develop

In 2009-2010 the Better Regulation Executive which

sits within the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) undertook a consultation to seek feedback on how the Government-owned Impact Assessment process could be improved.37 As part of its contribution

to this consultation the SDC coordinated a working group of sustainability practitioners to share ideas on how the process could better integrate sustainable development and enable policy-makers to make more sustainable decisions. A refresh of the entire Impact Assessment process was published in March 2010 with some progress made on highlighting the importance of sustainable development in decision-making. Although this was not the overhaul that the

working group had called for, Defra have committed to continuing the work of this group in subsequent reviews as part of its Departmental Business Plan

The Impact Assessment process also includes a

Sustainable Development Specific Impact Test (SD SIT – owned by Defra) which the SDC has been working with Defra to improve. The latest version indicates that some progress has been made in creating a more user-friendly test to guide policy-makers through considering the sustainable development impacts of their policies. However, the social impacts section is largely underdeveloped and Defra have acknowledged that this is a work in progress. Defra plan to use the work and findings of the Social Impacts Task Force to build on the social impacts section of the Test over time

The Department of Health (DH) has a centrally

located analyst who supports colleagues across the department with carbon and sustainability appraisals of policy options

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has developed its

own tool – The Approach to Sustainable Development in Policy-making – for measuring the sustainability of policies and programmes developed through the Impact Assessment process, as well as establishing mechanisms for monitoring progress.


A longer-term, broader-based approach to policy-making that identifies and mitigates unintended consequences and tackles underlying causes rather than moderating symptoms. This involves examining significant impacts, understanding their linkages and improving economic, environmental and social impacts using appropriate analysis, tools and guidance. Policy


Useful Links

GES Review of the Economics of Sustainable



The HMT Green Book:


Figure 1 The Five Principles of Sustainable Development

Figure 1

The Five Principles of Sustainable Development p.9
Figure 2 Understanding the Sustainable Development Approach

Figure 2

Understanding the Sustainable Development Approach p.11
Figure 3 Driving continuous improvement and increasing positive economic, environmental and social outcomes   by embedding a sustainable development approach

Figure 3

Driving continuous improvement and increasing positive economic, environmental and social outcomes by embedding a sustainable development approach p.12
Figure 4 The Business Case for Sustainable Development

Figure 4

The Business Case for Sustainable Development p.14
Figure 5 Barriers to Embedding Sustainable Development in Government

Figure 5

Barriers to Embedding Sustainable Development in Government p.15
Figure 6 Sustainable Development Architecture

Figure 6

Sustainable Development Architecture p.18


  2. 2009 Review:
  5. Jordan, Andrew – University of East Anglia,
  7. audit-committee/
  8. committees-a-z/commons-select/environmental-audit-committee/
  13. DVLA’s 2010-2011 business plan
  18. development-in-governmen
  24. Development:
  25. The HMT Green Book:
  26. SIT):
  27. Policy-making:
  28. The
  29. capability building: